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Project Ara: Motorola's vision for a modular smartphone


October 29, 2013

Motorola's Project Ara imagines a customizable future for smartphones, with hardware consi...

Motorola's Project Ara imagines a customizable future for smartphones, with hardware consisting of modules attached to an endoskeleton

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An interesting concept for a modular smartphone blew up online in September, with Dave Hakkens revealing his idea for Phonebloks. It turns out that Hakkens wasn't the only one to be imagining a brave new future for smartphones, with Motorola announcing it has been working on a similar concept for the past year. Could Motorola Ara actually happen or is it still, despite Google's enviable and practically unlimited resources, a nice idea that is unlikely ever to become reality?

Phonebloks generated a lot of press thanks to its innovative vision that, were it to become reality, could irrevocably change the smartphone market. The need to upgrade every year or two years would be gone, with the consumer given power over which individual components they wanted to upgrade or replace.

Project Ara is Motorola's take on the same concept, with the company developing a free and open hardware platform which is intended to fuel the creation of modular smartphones.

Early design suggestions for the various modules that any Motorola Ara hardware will consi...

Motorola is aiming to do for the hardware market "what the Android platform has done for software." Which is, in its own words, "create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines."

As this is currently just a concept, details are thin on the ground, but Motorola suggests the Ara hardware will consist of an endoskeleton; a structural frame into which modules are slotted. These modules could be a new processor, a new display, an extra battery, or countless other components that offer users endless customization options.

Motorola is now teaming with Hakkens, pairing the company's technical work with the community that built up around Phonebloks. Project Ara is, therefore, being developed in the open, with research scouts helping to turn the concept into reality. In the coming months, Motorola hopes to invite developers to start creating modules for the Ara platform, with plans for the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) to hit alpha sometime this Northern Hemisphere winter.

Source: Motorola Blog

About the Author
Dave Parrack Dave is a technology journalist with a ravenous appetite for gadgets, gizmos, and gubbins. He's based in the U.K., and from his center of operations writes about all facets of modern and future technology. He has learned more in his five years writing for the Web than he did in 11 years at school, and with none of the boring subjects thrown in to the mix.   All articles by Dave Parrack

A better gps system is what i want. my phone can be off several miles when out in the boonies.

a better camera would also be nice...with focusing abilities as well as auto-focus. stabilizing too?

an add-on power / antenna booster? with extra battery just for it.

add-on solar panel charger?

add-on super capacitor?

add-on usb connector?

my phone is fast enough for the operations i use it for and it is 3 years old, so i don't think "fast" is the key element...dependable is more important.

add-on exoskeleton with no degradation of signal, definitely!

weight is not a problem with me, nor is "thin"...i'm getting old and that means screen size is more important to me. quality of screen would be nice though.

30th October, 2013 @ 06:26 am PDT

This is definitely a rip-off of the Phone Blocks concept.

This one appears to be less well-thought-out.

With Phone Blocks you don't have the limitation of the "frame" that motorola is using. Using the frame means you can only put certain modules in certain places. The Phone Blocks has no frame but an open slate. Having this openness means you can place the modules in any order or size so long as it fits.

I hope that phones go modular. I just worry about the jobs that will be lost as a result.

Daniel Gregory
30th October, 2013 @ 06:41 am PDT

@Daniel Gregory, you do realise that Motorola isn't trying to "rip-off" the Phonebloks concept, but are actually working with the creator of the concept?

"Motorola is now teaming with Hakkens, pairing the company's technical work with the community that built up around Phonebloks. Project Ara is, therefore, being developed in the open, with research scouts helping to turn the concept into reality."

Hakken's purpose all along was to get the concept recognised by industry in order to make it happen, with a goal to get this broadcast to the world on 29th of October. Motorola then announces Project Ara on the 29th of October. I don't think this is coincidence and would say that that goal has been a success. Check out the Phonebloks video in the linked article in the article above if you haven't seen it.

Should be interesting to see the form factors that come out of the project.

30th October, 2013 @ 02:26 pm PDT

I would think that the connectors and covers for each section would make them unnecessarily larger, heavier and more expensive. Does it scatter if you drop it?

30th October, 2013 @ 10:53 pm PDT

A hardware-designer friend and I spitballed an architecture for modular laptops along these lines a few years ago.

We were both sick of planned obsolescence and waste, and excited to be able to buy something that would hold value.

I think it's a noble idea, but there would be huge challenges. One advantage would be to have the components interconnect with an extremely fast differential serial buss like parts of desktop PCs and laptops use.

I like the idea of being able to identify and obtain the pricey features one needs or desires, without being tied into other features. One could get the best of the best of everything and build a sort of super-phone, but it might cost $2000. The good part would be that it wouldn't be obsolete in 5 months!

31st October, 2013 @ 04:22 am PDT
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